I couldn’t have started this Must-Read Series for Women without the review of this wonderful book by Barbara Pym.
Set up in the early 1950’s, it speaks of the perception of unmarried women who are termed as strong, capable and excellent by society and yet undeservedly overlooked and the feelings of these women are captured with satire in the brilliant depiction of the protagonist in this book.
Mildred Lathbury, the narrator in the story, is a spinster, just over the age of 30. She is a clergyman’s daughter living alone in an unimpressive neighbourhood of London, goes to church and has a small group of friends. She is an average woman with mousy brown hair who puts very little thought into her appearance and has a career as a social worker at the Society for Aged Gentlewomen. Mildred often spends a lot of time doing work for other people instead of focusing on her life and relationships.
The story is about the concept of excellent women, who are capable enough to live life on their own terms. In a society that values the institution of marriage, and often looks down upon the unmarried as being unworthy, Mildred finds it difficult to maintain any sense of worth or self-esteem.
Julian and Winifred Malory, the brother and sister are Mildred’s closest friends in London, and she spends a lot of time with them. When the Malorys take in a tenant, Allegra Gray, a widow who becomes Julian’s fiancée, causes jealousy in Mildred, who confesses to herself that she has feelings for the pastor.
Mildred gets involved in the lives of her glamorous new neighbors, Helena and Rockingham Napiers. Mildred finds Rocky charming and attractive whereas Helena is a vivacious career woman, who is devoted to her career in anthropology. Their marriage is turbulent and Mildred tries to help the couple reconcile.
This novel from the early 1950’s is well written by Barbara Pym with humor and wonderful characterization. Though no big events happen in Mildred’s small social circle, the author has used a subtle and intelligent way to express Mildred’s pleasures, disappointments, fleeting regrets, confusion, sadness and hope.
Funny moments and poignant episodes of Mildred’s narrative make this book an engaging read making the reader think, will Mildred’s normally quiet and predictable life change?
Related Links :
Excellent Women by Barbara Pym – Available Here.